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Wellbeing for All: Achieving wellbeing in an unequal world
16th June 2010
Where: Lecture Theatre G06, Roberts Building
Chaired by: Polly
Toynbee (The Guardian)
Speaker: Professor Richard Wilkinson,
Honorary Professor at
UCL and co-author of The Spirit Level.
UCL Speakers: Professor Philip
(UCL Bentham Project), Professor
Costas Meghir (UCL Economics), Dr Alex Frediani
Development Planning Unit).
This event considered how and whether wellbeing can be achieved in unequal society; the extent to which wellbeing is impeded by inequality; and what the barriers to achieving greater fairness (and consequently improved wellbeing) are. Professor Wilkinson explored the relationship between equality and happiness, with other speakers considering individual versus social wellbeing; equality, education and wellbeing; and developing wellbeing.
The prevalence of negative health and social factors in
developed nations is highest where wealth is distributed unequally. That
pattern was demonstrated by worldwide epidemiological data presented by
Professor Richard Wilkinson (Nottingham), co-author of The Spirit
Level and co-founder of the Equality Trust,
at a UCL Grand Challenge of Human Wellbeing event on 16 June 2010.
Index of health and social factors – life expectancy; maths and literacy; infant mortality; homicides; imprisonment; teenage births; trust; obesity; mental illness, including drug and alcohol addiction; and social mobility – relative to income inequality. From The Spirit Level (The Equality Trust)
Speaking at ‘Wellbeing for all? Achieving wellbeing in an unequal world’, Professor Wilkinson said that in developed nations the degree of inequality – the size of the difference between the incomes of the rich and the poor – correlates with prevalence of a wide range of social and health problems. This includes life expectancy, which is not related to average incomes, but to income differences.
He argued that greater social equality is the most important factor in ensuring people’s wellbeing. In contrast to less equal rich countries, more equal rich countries have, for example:
- higher levels of education
- more trust and community involvement
- greater social mobility
- more wellbeing among children
- lower levels of physical ill health
- lower levels of mental ill health
- less drug abuse
- lower rates of imprisonment
- less obesity
- less violence
- fewer teenage births.
Societies with a bigger gap between the rich and the poor are bad for everyone in them, including the well-off. While greater equality yields the greatest benefits for the poor, the benefits extend to the majority of the population.
The chair of the event, Polly Toynbee (The Guardian), introduced brief talks by three speakers – Professor Philip Schofield (UCL Bentham Project), Professor Costas Meghir (UCL Economics) and Dr Alex Frediani (UCL Development Planning Unit) – followed by discussion with the audience.
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